Centralized Customer Service Systems Can Benefit Everyone

Centralized customer service systems offer an opportunity for residents to make their needs known at any time and to receive information back about the status of their requests.

ARTICLE | Nov 9, 2007

Typically local government services are provided as residents expect—trash is picked up, streetlights function, and residents have no interaction related to these services. But if something goes wrong, residents contact the local government. Centralized customer service systems offer an opportunity for residents to make their needs known at any time and to receive information back about the status of their request, typically by a tracking number. The feedback about the status of a request is a significant customer service advantage because it makes a difference; the customer is connected, not left wondering whether or when the problem will be fixed. The systems enable local governments to identify repeat problems by neighborhood, leading to increased efficiency in repairs and problem solving. Information generated by the system can be a useful management tool for planning, budgeting, and performance.

ICMA conducted a national Local Government Customer Service Systems (311) survey that explores successful implementation of these systems and how they are being used to respond to citizen needs and strengthen local government-constituent relationships. Funding for the study comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which makes grants to advance science, technology, and the quality of American life.

Survey highlights

  • Although only 104 of the 710 respondents reported use of a centralized system, the results show that 27% (190) are considering implementing one.
  • Improving service despite increased cost is identified as the driving force behind implementation of the system by the highest percentage of respondents (43%).
  • A slight majority of local governments (52.2%) use some form of off-the-shelf call intake technology. Most have added modifications or customization to the package. 
  • Twenty-eight local governments have measured nonemergency calls to 911 since the centralized system was implemented, and 43% report a decrease in calls to 911.
  • Approximately 80% of local governments report that their system includes a customer response mechanism, such as estimated repair time or notification that the repair has been made.

ICMA’s survey results will be presented at Public Technology Institute's upcoming educational seminar, CRM Beyond the Hype: What It Really Means for Local Government, which will be held in Dallas, Texas, December 6-7, 2007. ICMA is a cohost of the seminar, and ICMA members will receive a discount on registration.  

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